As the first environment speech by a British prime minister in 15 years, today Theresa May announced the 25 Year Environment Plan, signalling the commitment of Government to protect and grow the UK’s natural environment.
Hosted by the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, stomping ground of Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP and environmental advocate, the Prime Minister outlined the national plan that would “protect and renew our natural inheritance for the next generation”. Rooted in 10 objectives, the Plan’s policies are broad and comprehensive, ranging from sustainable fisheries in a post-Brexit world to improving management of residual waste.
Hot on the heels of the launch of the new national housing agency – Homes England – the social, community and health benefits of the environment is a key focus for policy initiatives. “A healthier environment also helps deliver social justice and a country that works for everyone” is the Plan’s mantra, with attention on promoting the value of England’s ‘nature capital’ within local communities and for younger people—perhaps a nod to potential young Conservative voters.
Despite this, there is a sense that Government cannot single-handedly deliver on the Plan. Effective partnerships with local councils, the voluntary sector and communities will help foster a sense of collaboration and progression. Businesses such as Unilever UK and Ireland have already voiced their support and associations like National Parks England have also welcomed the publication of the Plan.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove is due to announce the timescale for the new Environmental Act and today would have been perfect. This would have muted critics who felt that the Plan was simply a ‘greenwashing’ exercise. Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts has already issued a public statement calling “for an ambitious Environment Act in the next Parliament “.
However, we are expecting the launch of the Consultation on the new Environmental Governance body post-Brexit to be scheduled for next week where we hope to receive an update on progress and timings. This will re-confirm Gove’s determination for a Green Brexit.
Following the publication of the Clean Growth Strategy in October 2017, Government’s commitment to green finance remains strong. The recently established Green Finance Task Force is due to make recommendations on how the Government can boost private sector investment into sustainable projects and infrastructure. The Government will also be establishing a new green business council and exploring the potential for a natural environment impact fund.
We are also waiting for recommendations following the Call for Evidence on reward and return schemes for drinks – an important occasion following the Environmental Audit Committee’s ‘latte levy’ recommendation last week. There will also be a new Call for Evidence on potential financing structures for waste reduction initiatives.
The Plan follows a flurry of recent government strategies including The Industrial Strategy and The Clean Growth Strategy. The Government’s vision and commitment to driving the ‘green’ agenda is clear, but decisive action and definitive results will be needed to quell the voices of doubt.
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